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NWF.102/May.9.2000
[1] Up Close And Confusing: Next NMFS BiOp Close At Hand
[2] More Federal Feuding: EPA Blasts Corps; Snake DEIS
[3] BPA's MOA Means Big Buck Bonanza For Fish And Wildlife
[4] Big Spring Runs Bring Big Problems
[5] Hatchery Fish No Bargain, Economist Tells Power Council
[6] Pasco Hosts House Hearing On Salmon Issues
[7] Corps Lays Egg In Court Over Tern Relocation

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[1] UP CLOSE AND CONFUSING: NEXT NMFS BIOP CLOSE AT HAND

NMFS' new draft BiOp for the hydro system is close at hand, but it's still not clear what it will include or how long it will guide future operations of the federal hydro system. Regional NMFS director Will Stelle told the Associated Press nearly two weeks ago that it will last from five to 10 years. But a week before Stelle's announcement, NMFS Columbia Basin policy coordinator Ric Ilgenfritz told a Senate field hearing that it would be from two to 10 years. And at an April 5 Implementation Team meeting of regional policymakers, NMFS hydro operations head Brian Brown called it a "decadal BiOp."

The region isn't expected to be too surprised by what's included in the BiOp--other than the possibility of fish survival performance standards. Current spill operations will be rolled into the 2000 BiOp, according to Paul Wagner, NMFS representative to the Technical Management Team. Changes from last year's spill program include a boost at Lower Granite this year to evaluate operation of the surface collector; 24-hour spill at Lower Monumental; and a 24-hour-per-day spill reduction at The Dalles, from 64 percent to 40 percent, because recent studies have shown juvenile survival benefits from less spill at that site.

As for future flow augmentation and fish transportation strategies, the agency has not indicated that much will change from present operations. But several recently released White Papers call for more studies that could take many years to resolve continued uncertainties about fish survival in bypass systems and the relative survival of barged versus inriver fish.

"To provide sufficient data will require marking of fish for several more years and complete adult returns will not become possible for another decade," states the NMFS White Paper on transportation research. The agency says studies are needed because of the "tremendous" decadal variability inherent in adult return rates.

Flow augmentation may actually be boosted, although NMFS has not confirmed such a strategy. However, Idaho irrigators are nervous about the prospect of the feds using water from BuRec storage reservoirs in the upper Snake.

The White Paper on fish travel time, survival and flow management did not find a flow/survival relationship for spring chinook, but suggests that more flow from the Snake could help fall chinook by reducing temperatures, and might also improve conditions in the estuary and Columbia River plume. Idaho water users have disputed such claims in both written comments to NMFS and recent testimony at a Senate field hearing.

"To suggest that flow augmentation from the Snake River Basin can somehow improve flow conditions in the Columbia River and provide significant water contributions to the estuary for salmon recovery is ludicrous," Sherl Chapman, spokesperson for the Idaho Water Users Association, said at the field hearing. "In fact, the fluctuation in flow over a one month period at the mouth of the Columbia is greater than the entire annual flow of the Snake River Basin."

NMFS' Stelle also told the AP that the final BiOp would likely be scrutinized by the National Academy of Sciences, which would conduct a year-long examination of the plan's scientific foundations. Though he pushed the concept of performance standards for all the Hs, Stelle said that without substantial improvements to salmon conditions outside of hydro operations, "it will leave the region with little choice but to look at dams."

NMFS scientists seemed unaware of Stelle's plan to shop the BiOp out for review. Although the suggestion had come up, no decision has been made, said one source. A one-year review seemed optimistic to scientists familiar with the peer review process.

The NAS took four years to produce its last salmon report, called Upstream, and Stelle--then serving as chief counsel to the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee--played a big role in getting that independent review of West coast salmon started. -Bill Rudolph


[2] MORE FEDERAL FEUDING: EPA BLASTS CORPS' DRAFT EIS

The Environmental Protection Agency has told the Corps of Engineers that its draft EIS on the lower Snake River "inadequately evaluates" water quality impacts of the four alternatives that spell out potential future actions, including breaching the four federal dams. EPA doesn't buy the Corps' argument that higher water temperatures--detrimental to listed stocks--may occur if the dams are breached.

The differences of opinion are already being played out in federal court, where environmental groups have sued the Corps over alleged violations of state water quality standards in the Clean Water Act. The enviros are using a new EPA temperature model as part of their argument. State standards in Washington and Oregon call for maximum temperatures of 68F. The laws are routinely violated, especially during late summer hot spells, when Hells Canyon air temperatures are commonly over 100F for days at a time.

In an April 27 letter to the Corps, EPA Region 10 head Chuck Clarke said the draft EIS fails on several other counts as well. It doesn't include a strategy to comply with water quality standards, assess the costs for such an undertaking, or adequately evaluate air quality impacts of any alternatives, Clarke said.

Besides dam breaching, the Corps' DEIS also examines status quo operations; aggressive non-breaching, which includes major system improvements; and maximum transport of juvenile salmonids.

"You can't expect the dams to correct a basin-wide problem," said Doug Arndt, head of the Corps' Pacific Salmon Office in Portland. He pointed out that it is his agency's intent, "outside of the BiOp, to develop a water quality plan," but that it's up to Congress to fund it.

"I don't have heartburn over some of their comments," he added, but said the region is being misled about the potential value of breaching the dams. "We need more certainty about non-breaching actions."

In detailed comments from EPA, Clarke said his agency's temperature model shows that lower Snake reservoirs "cause water quality standard exceedances almost on a daily basis during the hot part of the summer by inhibiting the diurnal water temperature fluctuations that occur under free-flowing conditions" and prolonging high water temperatures as seasons change.

The EPA model says that temperatures will come down if the dams are breached. But Corps biologist John McKern pointed to his Sept. 29, 1999 declaration in the CWA lawsuit, in which he stated for the record that "water temperatures in the free-flowing river before the dams were constructed exceeded the water temperature standards."

McKern also stated that to his knowledge there is no operational measure for reducing temperatures in the reservoirs, since they are already making cold water releases from Dworshak. "It is my opinion that water temperatures are determined more by the temperature of the inflow from the main river and tributaries than by heating of surface waters in run-of-the-river reservoirs," he said.

In its comments, EPA also criticized the Corps for using a myriad of models, then emphasizing historical data to make its case. EPA also took issue with how the Corps records temperatures at the dams. The Corps measures water temperature at the turbines (scroll case), which EPA says read lower than electronic sensors at the ends of the dams, which measure dissolved gas levels as well as temperatures. "No explanation is given as to why the scroll case data is selected over the TDG station data," said EPA. "If TDG station data were selected one would arrive at a different conclusion; that water temperature has not been lowered since the dams were constructed."

But McKern said fish managers recommended years ago that the Corps take temperatures at the turbines because they thought it would provide the best daily average river temperature. He pointed out that the TDG stations haven't been in place as long, so it is unfair to compare databases.

In a 1991 study, consultant Don Chapman found that adult salmon migration in the Snake slows significantly for steelhead when the inriver temperature exceeds 72, and doesn't improve much until the water cools to 68. But his study pointed out that from 1962 through 1989, temperatures at Ice Harbor on the Snake trended downward. "This surprised us," said the report, "since several [of the] most recent years have been low flow years. During the 1960s, [water] temperatures were higher than in the late 1980s, even though August flows were higher." The study said that while low flows can result in increasing temperatures, "air temperature regimes may be more important in determining future water temperature as irrigation withdrawal increases."

The study also pointed out that since Brownlee and Hells Canyon dams were constructed, a trout fishery developed below those projects, "which indicates a cooler water regime during summer than formerly existed."

Chapman's speculations seem to be borne out by an aerial infrared temperature study conducted last summer by consultants to Idaho's Department of Water Quality. Accurate to within 0.1, the study found that when the air temperature was 85 and no water was added from Dworshak, the mainstem water temperature met the 68 standard. When the air temperature was 95 to 100 and flow was augmented with cool Dworshak water, temperatures in the Snake met the CWA standard below the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake. But under those conditions, the study found that tributaries like the Salmon River were as warm or warmer than the mainstem Snake farther upstream, around 71 to 72 . -Bill Rudolph


[3] BPA'S MOA MEANS BIG-BUCK BONANZA FOR FISH AND WILDLIFE

Regional fish agencies and NMFS policymakers met last week in Portland to discuss ways to spend around $180 million in uncommitted funds from BPA's last fish and wildlife memorandum of agreement, which capped spending on fish and wildlife programs through FY 2000. The funds were part of an estimated expenditure of $672 million in capital repayment over the 6-year life of the federal MOA.

The White House is urging that the money be spent on artificial propagation efforts. At a meeting two weeks ago in Washington, DC, with federal agencies and Columbia Basin tribes, George Frampton of the White House Council on Environmental Quality urged participants to submit their wish lists.

NMFS official Steve Smith reportedly presented a $250 million list of potential hatchery-related measures that could be submitted through the upcoming BiOp as a "reasonable, prudent alternative" to dam breaching on the lower Snake--a program that could call for extensive fish supplementation efforts to improve 12 listed ESUs in the basin. Although talks are still in the early stages, tribes presented a "substantial list" of their own last week.

But the independent science panel that scrutinizes BPA's fish and wildlife spending still considers using hatcheries to supplement wild runs an experimental strategy. And according to Bob Lohn, the Power Planning Council's F&W program head, the panel would still review potential fast-track plans for the funds.

Others were critical of the semi-secret effort. The Native Fish Society's Bill Bakke [a NW Fishletter contributing editor] said there is no reason to believe that supplementation efforts will work. "If it happens, it will sign the death certificate for wild salmon in the Columbia Basin," he said of the plans being pitched for the money. In effect, Bakke added, the effort would buy tribal support for keeping the lower Snake dams in place. -B. R.


[4] INCREASING CHINOOK RUNS BRING PROBLEMS

With this year's Columbia River run of spring chinook projected to possibly reach 190,000 or 200,000 fish, it's not all good news. Tribal fishermen will have their first commercial fishery in over 20 years, but harvest restrictions to protect ESA-listed spring runs will still let most hatchery fish to go to waste. The big run means many more hatchery fish will return than managers need for broodstock. Most of these excess chinook will be killed to keep them from spawning with wild fish, a situation that's become a hot button issue in the region.

Recent political opposition to killing excess hatchery fish has flared up in Oregon and Washington, where legislators are upset with the waste.

"The clubbing issue is going to happen in the next few weeks in the upper Columbia tributaries," said Rob Walton, assistant director of the Public Power Council. He said about 2,000 Carson National Fish Hatchery spring chinook will come up the Methow River in northeastern Washington state. Since these fish are a non-native chinook released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service does not want them to spawn with the endangered wild spring chinook in the Methow.

So these fish will be destroyed, with a predictable public outcry from folks whose water rights and land management practices are being challenged by federal agencies to provide protection for spring chinook. After all, they have been told that hatchery and wild salmon are the same.

Walton believes the region's fish management program is not working. "We need to change the fish management strategy. Conservation biology and animal husbandry are not compatible."

The problem is similar to what happened in Oregon last year over excess hatchery coho, where private property advocates claimed the fish should spawn rather than be killed. They sued the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in both state and federal court to keep the agency from killing (clubbing) excess hatchery fish. Ex-Oregon State University professor Dr. James Lannan, known for his failed salmon culture experiments, testified that there is no difference between wild and hatchery salmon.

The same message was delivered last year by Columbia River tribes in their presentations to the Oregon legislature over proposed changes to Oregon's wild fish policy to allow hatchery fish to help boost wild runs.

But ODFW director Jim Greer says the state's hatchery system has not prevented the further decline of his state's wild salmon and steelhead stocks. "Increasing the numbers of hatchery fish returning from the ocean, by itself, will not rescue wild fish...and allowing surplus hatchery fish to spawn...will not help restore or protect Oregon's native salmon runs of the future," he wrote in the March/April issue of his agency's publication, Oregon Wildlife.

In a court case over the excess coho issue last year, ODFW's Doug DeHart, chief of the fish division, said that "the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that using a biologically inappropriate hatchery stock for such purposes is unadvisable and will cause substantially more harm than good. ODFW has concluded from both general and specific studies that Fall Creek hatchery stock is inappropriate for rebuilding the naturally reproducing coho population in the Alsea Basin."

In yet another court case, Mark Chilcote of ODFW's Natural Production Program said "Using hatchery fish to help rebuild depressed wild populations is an unproven and risky methodology. While there is no evidence of supplementation being a success, there is evidence that supplementation poses a risk."

This risk to wild salmon has the National Marine Fisheries Service concerned about hatchery programs and harvest management that is based on such production. With a growing shift in the region from production hatchery programs to using hatcheries for conservation, the agency is taking a close look at hatchery practices.

"Any hatchery program in the upcoming ESA biological opinion will require hatchery gene management plans, a risk analysis, and public comment," said NMFS policymaker Steve Smith.

But returning spring chinook from Idaho hatcheries will be flooding that state's streams before the new BiOp is even released. Fish managers there have already announced a sports fishery in the Clearwater River, where excess spring chinook returning to the Dworshak hatchery will be trapped and trucked back to the mouth of the river. There, the fish will be released again to swim past another gauntlet of sportsmen. If excess fish return to the Rapid River hatchery below Hells Canyon on the Snake, the chinook may be trucked up past the dams to provide angling opportunities for Boise-area sports enthusiasts, said Idaho Fish and Game biologist Russ Kiefer.

Next year, Idaho's problem will be much more severe. As ocean conditions have improved over the last few seasons, huge counts of returning jack chinook this spring point to a monumental return of Idaho hatchery fish next year.

As runs have improved, Idaho hatcheries have been able to use more broodstock to boost production. The high jack count is partly due to the fact that more than four times as many spring chinook smolts were released from the state's hatcheries last year than in 1998. -Bill Bakke


[5] HATCHERY FISH NO BARGAIN, ECONOMIST TELLS POWER COUNCIL

Economist Hans Radtke told Power Planning Council members April 26 that Columbia Basin hatcheries are producing some of the most expensive protein in the world. Using survival rates from the 1990s, he estimated that by the time hatchery-raised spring chinook (average weight, 12 pounds) are caught, the fish cost a whopping $404.55 apiece. Production costs were something else again--only 89 cents apiece. During the 1980s, when survival rates were three times higher, the cost per adult fish still tallied up to nearly $130 apiece.

Fall chinook were a bargain compared to the springers; in the past decade, they only cost about $50 apiece by the time they were ready for a sportsman's lure or a tribal gillnet. Coho were in the same ballpark: total cost per returning adult amounted to nearly $59, while steelhead were nearly $300 apiece.

Since commercial fishermen only made about $19 per fish and recreation impacts amounted to $55 per day, Radtke told the Council that it may make more economic sense for tribes to push recreational fishing rather than pump up their commercial side to compete with cheaper Alaska fish, which compete with aquacultured salmon that are even cheaper to produce. Otherwise, Radtke said, before any strategy to market basin salmon can be successful, a complete review of production costs, hatchery production and harvest management must be undertaken, including a review of the regional hatchery/wild salmon strategy. -Bill Rudolph


[6] PASCO HOSTS HOUSE COMMITTEE HEARING ON SALMON ISSUES

The House Committee on Resources came to eastern Washington April 27 for an oversight hearing on Columbia River salmon issues. Representatives on hand at the Pasco session heard testimony from three panels, one of which included BPA Administrator Judy Johansen, who read from the same text that BPA senior vice president Steve Wright recited several weeks before at a Senate hearing in Washington, DC.

Johansen said BPA is committed to funding its share of efforts to recover endangered fish and wildlife, and the agency is positioned "to perform financially on that commitment." Though ocean conditions may be improving, "we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking nature will do the work for us," Johansen said. "The ocean won't yield fish unless we continue to vigorously address the other causes of decline--harvest, habitat, hatcheries and hydro operations."

Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) asked NMFS policymaker Ric Ilgenfritz if his agency is considering expanding the next BiOp to include federal reservoirs above Hells Canyon on the Snake River. Operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, the reservoirs provide irrigation water for thousands of acres in southern Idaho and so far have not been included in flow augmentation policy talks. Ilgenfritz admitted the reservoirs' inclusion is now under discussion. When he tried to add supplemental testimony to his original statements, Chenoweth threatened to charge him with contempt of Congress. -B. R.


[7] ARMY CORPS LAYS EGG IN COURT OVER TERN RELOCATION

The Ninth Circuit Court sided with Caspian terns April 28 when it denied a motion by Corps of Engineers attorneys for an emergency stay of a Seattle judge's injunction preventing the agency from implementing a strategy to keep salmon-preying terns from nesting on Rice Island in the Columbia estuary. In past years, nearly 10,000 pairs nesting there have gulped down more than 10 million young salmon and steelhead as the fish migrated to sea.

The Corps has been a lead agency in developing a way to encourage the birds to move to another island farther downstream, hopefully reducing smolt consumption by 25 percent to 45 percent. The agency was prepared to begin a serious harassment strategy--employing three people to shoo the birds off the 240-acre island they call home--when bird lovers took the Corps to court last month.

But the birds have had the last word. According to Corps spokesman Matt Rabe, surprised biologists have counted nearly 19,000 terns at a new 4-acre nesting site near the mouth of the river, with only 3,300 birds camping out on Rice Island.

According to the latest weekly report from the birds' own website, the new residents of East Sand Island have a diet that's made up of 72 percent salmonids, while the Rice Islanders are eating a greater share--about 87 percent salmonids.

Overall, the difference in salmonid consumption may seem little. But biologists say when all is said and done, they hope the terns' diet reflects what they have seen for the past two years, that birds from the new nesting site will consume 40 percent less juvenile salmonids than the group farther upriver.

Last year, the Corps was successful in relocating around 1,400 nesting pairs to East Sand Island with the aid of 400 decoys and loud audio systems luring the birds to a new home by playing what researchers call "Caspian Terns' Greatest Hits." -B. R.

Correction: Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) does not support a Senate bill to add 41 NMFS staffers in the Northwest, as reported in NW Fishletter 101. Although he did not voice opposition to the bill at the April 20 Senate field hearing in Redmond, WA, Gorton told regional NMFS administrator Will Stelle in a May 4 letter that he favors a "more streamlined approach, so that the bureaucracy does not undermine local salmon restoration efforts, and NMFS processes do not work as a disincentive for local entities or property owners that are attempting to comply with the Endangered Species Act." Gorton noted that the Corps of Engineers has proposed a broader permit that would "greatly reduce" delays on local restoration projects.

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